Let them all talk about the dream team of Meryl Streep and Steven Soderbergh. The actor and director reunite after their 2019 romp The Laundromat in Let Them All Talk. The result is one of 2020’s best surprises. Let Them All Talk should squash of the biggest criticisms that Streep often faces: that she resists auteur directors. Sure, she’s worked with some of the greats before: Mike Nichols (Postcards from the Edge, Silkwood, Angels in America), Robert Altman (A Prairie Home Companion), Steven Spielberg (The Post), Clint Eastwood (The Bridges of Madison County), and Nora Ephron (Julie & Julia), but even a die-hard Streep fan must recognize that Meryl tends to choose parts over projects. Fair enough – she’s an actor, not a director.
As with her performance in The Laundromat, though, Let Them All Talk offers a relinquishing of the Streep effect. While Meryl sings “It’s not all about me,” in The Prom, she puts the words into action with her latest outing with Soderbergh. This largely improvised, “let’s go film a movie on a boat” lark is truly Soderbergh-esque. It’s small-scale indie cinema, digitally driven, and very talky. In short, it’s sex, lies, and videotape on a boat with old dames in HD. However, Streep finds in Soderbergh her best directorial pairing since Mike Nichols. Let Them All Talk has a tangible spark of brainwaves colliding.
Words, Words, Words
Let Them All Talk, moreover, invites true synergy between an actor and director. The film is loosely scripted by Deborah Eisenberg and largely improvised by Streep and company. Meryl stars as Alice Hughes, an acclaimed novelist en route to Europe to receive a prestigious prize. Given Alice’s profession, she obviously has her gift for words. So too do Alice’s friends, Roberta (Candice Bergen) and Susan (Dianne Wiest), whom she invites along for the voyage on the Queen Mary, presumably to milk the prize committee for all their worth. Joining Alice as her chaperone is her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges, having a ball) and, in secret, Karen (a captivating Gemma Chan), the assistant of her literary agent. They, too, know that being in Alice’s company entails being a-top one’s word game. Let the banter begin!
The cruise unfolds with a series of episodes in which Alice frets about her new book, and Roberta worries about it too. Slow and talky, the film bides its time as Alice swims in her glory and Roberta marinates in resentment. Susan, meanwhile, is mostly an observer. However, these astute silent types often have the greatest gift for language, using worlds sparingly and employing them to their full effects when put to use. Elsewhere on the boat, Tyler finds himself smitten with Karen, while the latter spies a chance to be Alice’s agent full stop. A popular hack writer, like a John Grisham or Tom Clancy-type, excites Susan and Roberta in the dining room, much to Alice’s dismay. To her, good writing is all about savouring and refining words rather than churning them out ad nausea. Streep’s precise diction conveys a woman who chooses her words carefully, each adjective a precisely and intentionally sharpened blade.
Let Them All Act
Conversations dance around the nature of literary propriety and creative license before confronting them headlong. Let Them All Talk is a film about double entendres and hidden meanings, a creative treatise on the interplay between art and life as the actors explore one’s responsibility with the creative process by enacting it. This exercise, this drama, is what great acting is all about.
Streep, Bergen, and Wiest masterfully execute a game of acting and reacting. This kind of magic only happens when actors truly know how to burrow deep within a character’s skin and psyche. Wiest has fewer lines that her co-stars, but says so much with Susan’s fragile, reserved grace. Bergen in particular is a comedic firestorm ignited by Roberta’s festering emotional wounds, relishing the part of a woman scorned by another who literally stole her life and, most grievously, couldn’t find the words to hide the evidence. Streep, meanwhile, gives one of her most natural performances. One feels Streep pushing herself beyond her comfort zone, eschewing big moments in favour of small ones. In Soderbergh’s hands, Streep magnifies nuance.
The jazzy music by Thomas Newman adds to the film’s improvisational charm, while Soderbergh’s light, sleek touch with the cinematography is elegantly intimate. Despite the signature Soderbergh flourish, the director’s trust in the actors adds a unique energy. Let Them All Talk looks very “digital,” but it resembles theatre as much as film. This is a fun lark that lets actors embrace their craft and unabashedly find themselves in their element. Sometimes a great part and a great project are the same.
Let Them All Talk is now on Crave in Canada and HBO Max in the USA.